The term “great,” a subjective adjective too often applied and misused, perhaps is the wrong way to describe the following performances. However, time has given these individual achievements a unique aura and they’ve retained their power to thrill and excite all these many years later. Their order may be disputed, but these examples do stand out among the hundreds of Breeders’ Cup events contested over three decades.
10. Prized (1989 Turf) — Although not a huge surprise in a pari-mutuel sense (8-1), to beat some of the world’s best grass horses in your first ever start on the surface was in some ways a remarkable feat. The three-year-old had established class going in having upset Sunday Silence earlier that season in the Swaps (G1), but another round with that one and Easy Goer in the Classic (G1) was bypassed after a disappointing fourth-place finish to the latter in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1).
9. Alysheba (1988 Classic) — After drowning in the slop in the previous year’s Travers (G1) and scratched on other occasions due to wet conditions, there was no way for the great champion to avoid the mud on Breeders’ Cup Day. Satisfied that the prevailing conditions were unlike any off track he had encountered before, trainer Jack Van Berg was confident the colt would show his best, and “America’s Horse” did just that over one of the strongest Classic fields in history.
8. Ghostzapper (2004 Classic) — In only his second try around two turns and his first at 1 1/4 miles, the Hall of Famer dominated one of the deeper Classic fields in history by three lengths in a time of 1:59, still the fastest renewal in 31 years.
7. Manila (1986 Turf) — Not considered as highly as European star Dancing Brave and champion mare Estrapade, he found himself going better than those two in the stretch, but nearly failed to pull off the victory over future star Theatrical after seeing a hole along the rail close abruptly at the furlong pole. Extricating the colt and switching him outside rivals, jockey Jose Santos got the future Hall of Famer to turn in a winning surge despite dropping his stick yards before the wire.
6. Lure (1993 Mile) — His 6-5 odds did not reflect it, but there were lingering doubts whether his attempt to repeat in the Mile were DOA after he drew post 12 on the tight Santa Anita course. It ultimately proved a blessing in disguise as he was able to avoid a chain reaction instigated by Barathea’s bearing out into the first turn. Five wide entering that bend, he made the lead before entering the backstretch and asserted his superiority to the wire.
5. Da Hoss (1998 Mile) — The 1996 Mile winner at Woodbine, he did not race again until four weeks before the 1998 renewal when he narrowly captured a nine-furlong allowance at Colonial Downs. In a remarkable training feat by Michael Dickinson, the gelding made history with this gutsy win over Hawksley Hill, becoming the first horse to win the same Breeders’ Cup race in non-consecutive years.
4. Street Sense (2006 Juvenile) — Churchill’s reputation as a site of brilliant Juvenile performances continued when this colt rallied from near the back of the field under a stereotypical, rail-skimming ride from Calvin Borel. It was also a precursor of things to come as he came back six months later to win the Kentucky Derby (G1), the first and only Juvenile winner to do so.
3. Arazi (1991 Juvenile) — Weaving his way through traffic from near the back, the France-based colt passed rivals like they were standing still and drew off to win by five lengths in his first ever start on dirt. After recovering from off-season surgery, he was unable to sustain a similar move in the Kentucky Derby the following spring as the odds-on favorite.
2. Personal Ensign (1988 Distaff) — Over a track she seemed to not be handling and facing a rival that had won the Kentucky Derby in wire-to-wire fashion six months before, her chances of retiring undefeated appeared very long for much of the final half-mile. The courageous filly kept plugging along, though, and was up in the nick of time in one of the most celebrated performances in all of racing history.
1. Inside Information (1995 Distaff) — Widely considered the lesser half of a Phipps-owned entry favored at 4-5, she ran herself into championship glory and the Hall of Fame with a 13 1/2-length demolishing of stablemate Heavenly Prize and others in a time of 1:46 for nine furlongs. The skip in the mud was her 14th win in 17 lifetime starts.